Here on my farm in Half Moon Bay, CA, the ground is beyond muddy, plants are sleeping and the harvest season feels very, very far away. While only a six hour flight south to Punta Gorda, Belize, my friends that farm cacao are out on their farms tending to rapidly growing cacao fruit trees. Their normal harvest season is more towards June, however some early pods are being harvested weekly, mostly for use at home in traditional Mayan teas and food, like corn and cacao soup, chocolate and elixirs.
Here at home I have been going through my Belize botany notes. A handful of filled to the brim notebooks with scraps of paper, maps with notes and lines from interviews. The paper is swollen from rain, mud and chocolate, a in the moment reminder that transports me back to the jungle when I flip through the pages.
There are many medicinal values associated with Theobroma cacao, for our purposes, we focus on the skin benefits. Cacao oil is a key ingredient in our Higher Ground facial serum, an oil that gives the serum it's signature, rich scent and color. Useful for circulation, hydration and skin cell repair, cacao continues to amaze me - and helps my skin look glowing and healthy.
I lift open the large wooden door allowing the afternoon light to fill the room, except for the corner spots that stay dark, housing amber glass bottles, stacks of kraft paper and miscellaneous rolls of thick gauge hemp twine. A breeze comes in the room, twirling little bits of dust and tiny dried leaves from the Pittosporum shrubs outside, no matter how many times a day I sweep. The small swirls of debris slowly settle to the ground in a lovely scatter on the concrete. The space feels like my own; cool, tidy, small and insulated. Even the settling dust feels like it belongs. It’s a calming space to work in efficient and grounded silence - something that I’m always searching for.
I set down my big mason jar of hot tea on the corner wood table, put a podcast on low, and knot my scarf around my neck so it doesn’t knock over the oil bottles when I lean over to pour. The Theobroma cacao oil needs to be warmed up before pouring into the mixture, so I hold it tucked under my armpit, then blend other oils in the bowl with my free hand.
Sesame, vanilla, grape seed, rose hip.
But the cacao is my favorite; a thin brown elixir that has traveled a long way from its home in the jungle, carrying with it a scent that evokes so much to many people.
The emotional scent of chocolate; grass stains on white tights and pink dresses during easter with family. Sadness from a break up and a pint of ice cream on the couch. Cookies baking in the oven, warm chocolate chips with a glass of milk. Midnight and a spoon resting in a glass jar of hot fudge.
For me, the scent of chocolate is not typical. When I smell chocolate I smell humidity and heat. I smell red clay soil and sweat with sunscreen. I smell white, fruity pith and fermentation on flat slabs of pitted concrete. Burnt wood, corncobs boiling on the fire, the intense nutty fragrance from the three hour roast. Allspice. I smell whatever herbal bits were left in the big, stone mortar and pestle.
Spending time in Belize researching cacao has actually changed my scent memory of chocolate, something that I never really thought of before. What other scent memories have been altered from recent experience?
Back in the lab, I gently blend the oils, letting them all get to know each other in the bowl. Once the cacao is poured into the Higher Ground serum, it quickly settled to the bottom. You need to swirl the bottle to distribute the oil, the dark elixir looks like a flock of black birds swooping down in one quick movement to explore a patch of fresh soil in the garden. The scent for me is close to heaven, and what is offers my skin is even better.